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Villarreal must say goodbye to long-serving defender amid crowded position

The Yellows have some decisions to make this summer

Rayo Vallecano v Villarreal CF - La Liga Santander Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images

Over the summer we are covering each positional group. If you missed our coverage on goalkeepers click this link.

Today, we’re going to cover fullbacks, mostly because Jamie gave me the option between fullbacks and CBs, and I can’t decide if the other position should be called centerbacks, center backs, centre backs, or centre-backs.

We have half a million fullbacks, though, so buckle up.


Serge Aurier

Pervis Estupinan

Juan Foyth

Mario Gaspar

Alberto Moreno

Alfonso Pedraza

Ruben Pena

Performance Evaluation

To begin with, I think we clearly saw this season that some of these players no longer have a clear place in the squad’s rotation.

Mario and Ruben combined didn’t reach 800 La Liga minutes this season, and Aurier was specifically brought in - I think - because Unai Emery didn’t think either could do the job backing up Foyth.

Floating somewhere between the first two choices at each position and the obscurity of the two men just mentioned was Alberto Moreno.

In all competitions, he played as much left midfield and left wing as he did left back (if not more), producing six goals and four assists in about 1800 minutes across all competitions.

Given the injury issues to Danjuma and the poor season from Moi Gomez, Moreno found a role being a jack of all trades for Unai Emery’s side. He’s not going to set the world alight doing that but he certainly proved that he’s still a useful player.

Villarreal CF v Sevilla FC - La Liga Santander
Foyth has been reliable again this season
Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images

On the right, Juan Foyth and Serge Aurier seem to have their roles pretty clearly defined. Foyth is the starter and frankly he has an argument for being one of the very best right backs in La Liga.

Defensively, he’s immense and his ability on the ball is greatly underappreciated. Aurier was a strong tackler in 1v1 situations, a reliable presser of the ball, and generally did everything at a solid level but was no threat at all to take over Foyth’s job. He’s exactly what a backup fullback should be.

On the left, things are a lot more complicated. Estupinan and Pedraza basically split starting duties over the course of this season and both are very talented.

I am sure that most of our readers have their preference between the two (and most of you probably favor Pedraza) but 33 of our 59 points in La Liga were won with Estupinan starting and he also started wins over Juventus, Young Boys, Atalanta, and Bayern Munich in Europe.

I think Estupinan has finally understood what Emery expects from him positionally and he’s immensely talented so that buy has born fruit.

When you break down their metrics, it becomes clear rather quickly that Pedraza is the more effective offensive player, but Estupinan is the far more effective defender.

Pedraza has far more shot creating actions (mostly from his passing), xG, and xA but only completes 26% of his attempted tackles (a really bad number) to Estupinan who completes over 60% on his tackles attempted. The two players attempted virtually the same number.

Estupinan also has a higher percentage of successful pressures, completing an extremely solid 35% of them to Pedraza’s 29%, and more of Estupinan’s pressures come in the defensive third which points to the kind of positional play that Emery values so highly.

Both left backs are really good players but they offer very different things.

Needs at the position

Tottenham have been linked with a move for Pervis Estupinan, and that would likely be used as leverage in a deal for Lo Celso.

I think all of us would be willing to make that trade, because Lo Celso was tremendous for us after January this year and we have another really good left back.

If he leaves, though, I think a replacement is in order. Alberto is a wonderful jackknife of a player but his injury history is not something I want to rely on that heavily.

At right back, we mainly just need to find new homes for Mario and Ruben. I like both players a lot but I think their time here is pretty well done.

I would far rather see both wind down their careers on the pitch at a smaller club than riding the bench for us, especially Mario, who has been such a great servant of the club.